There are many places around the world that carry mystery, possess secrets and completely puzzle humankind. Following is just a small selection of destinations with peculiar histories that I recently learned about and find interesting. Are these areas haunted by the past or are the stories that surround them simply figments of the imagination? You’ll have to judge for yourself.
Island of the Dolls (Isla de las Muñecas)
Part of the borough of Xochimilco south of Mexico City, the Island of the Dolls lies a little more than 15 miles away and can be reached via a canal ride. You don’t even have to see images of the place because the name immediately exudes an eerie vibe. Amid the lush greenery hang several dolls, some with missing limbs and others contorted in unusual ways.
The story goes that a man named Don Julian Santana Barrera left his wife and child to live his remaining years in solitude. He moved to the island around the 1950s where he found the body of a young girl who drowned in one of the canals. Soon after, he also discovered a doll floating in the same waters, which he presumed to belong to the deceased child. To honor her soul, he hung the figurine from a tree. It’s believed the man was haunted by the spirit of the girl and began zealously collecting dolls of all sorts and hanging them in hopes of pacifying her in the afterlife. Particularly odd are the circumstances of Barrera’s death. He was found in 2001 drowned in the same spot as the girl he discovered more than half a century prior.
The site has become a popular tourist destination — for those who dare visit. Make sure to go to the Isla de las Muñecas official website for essential information on how to reach the island.
Villisca Ax Murder House
On June 10, 1912 between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., eight people were brutally murdered in their home. The horrendous crime, which continues to capture people’s interest more than a century later, happened in Villisca, Iowa, where the house still stands. The victims were Josiah and Sarah Moore; their four children ages five to 11; and the family’s two guests, the Stillinger sisters, who were only eight and 12 years old.
Information regarding the murderer and motivation for the gruesome killings is murky. What is known is that a neighbor, who saw no activity happening in the home around 7 a.m., alerted Mr. Moore’s brother. All doors were locked, so the sibling used his keys to gain entrance. He first came upon the bodies of the Stillinger sisters in the downstairs bedroom in the parlor and immediately realized he had to notify authorities. The killer’s weapon of choice was an ax that belonged to Josiah Moore. All victims were bludgeoned to death, skulls crushed in, and it’s reported the husband received the most intense blows, with a slash in his face so deep his eyes were missing.
The house was restored during the 1990’s by the current owners and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Day tours are offered, and brave souls can even book an overnight stay. Visit the official website for more details.
Hoia Baciu Forest
Many stories throughout history feature forests as a setting to convey mystery and danger. We see this in fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. Hoia Baciu Forest, near the city of Cluj-Napoca in Romania, is far from make-believe and considered to be the most haunted forest in the world. It has also been labeled the Bermuda Triangle of the country, mainly because some people believe it’s a portal to another dimension.
It’s sprawled across nearly 618 acres within the historical region of Transylvania, a place synonymous with the legend of Vlad Dracula. The woods are named after a shepherd who entered the forest with a flock of 200 sheep and never returned. People have reported several strange and inexplicable occurrences while in Hoia Baciu, from seeing orbs of light and ghosts to hearing frightful sounds.
The forest is also reported to be a hot spot for UFO sightings. In 1960, a biologist named Alexandru Sift captured a photo of what he believed to be a UFO hovering over the forest. Years later, Emil Barnea, a military technician, also caught sight of odd objects in the sky with his camera. Another oddity is a circular clearing deep in the forest where vegetation ceases to grow. Scientists have tested the soil and cannot conclude why nothing grows in this space.
Several other accounts surround Hoia Baciu, some may be true and others not. Experience the forest for yourself on a walking tour by going to the Hoia Baciu Project official website.
The haunted reputation of what was Borley Rectory is the main attraction of this village in Essex, England. The rectory was built in 1862 as a home for Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull and his family. Reports of ghost sightings already pervaded the area prior to the Gothic-style edifice being built. One fascinating tale states there was a monastery that stood nearby during the 14th century. A monk and nun were said to have engaged in a forbidden affair. When they were found out, the monk was executed and the nun interred in the convent walls. Although researchers later debunked the story, members of the Bull family claimed to see the apparition of a nun. A phantom carriage was another common sighting reported.
No discussion of Borley Rectory is complete without mentioning paranormal investigator Harry Price. His visits seemed to heighten the level of ghost activity in the house. Objects moved on their own, mysterious noises heard and Price even engaged in séances to contact the spirits. The Society for Psychical Research questioned the credibility of Harry Price and most of his observations were considered fabricated. But that hasn’t stopped people today from believing that the village of Borley has a haunted past.
Sadly, Borley Rectory was practically burnt to cinders in 1939 and then demolished in 1944. People can still pay a visit to Borley and look for the site where the rectory once stood.